‘Illegal’ short-term rentals spawn record complaints in Vancouver – British Columbia

Marie Simmonds is fixated on ferreting out illegal short-term rentals in Vancouver’s Kitsilano neighbourhood, knowing her detective work does little to stop the onslaught.

And the city seems to ignore her.

“I’ve become this Airbnb vigilante,” said Simmonds, who is irked by brazen hosts offering rooms from between $150 to $592 per night in a city that is short on rental stock.

A new McGill study says the bulk of the profit from the lucrative short-term rental industry is landing in the pockets of a few large-scale hosts. And world-wide, cities struggle to crack-down or enforce strict bans.

The study looked at Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver.

The study’s lead author, David Wachsmuth, assistant professor in McGill’s School of Urban Planning, said cities need to require platforms such as Airbnb to enforce regulations to rein in a rental gold rush that’s tying up thousands of potential long-term rental homes.

City of Vancouver staff admit they can’t follow up on many of the individual complaints, which city staff expect will double in number this year over last year’s 144.

They’ve had more than 150 reports of illegal rentals so far this year.

“At this time it’s full-on illegal,” said Kathryn Holm, Vancouver’s chief licensing inspector who said the city is in active discussions with Airbnb to find solutions.

Airbnb advertises short-term rentals in Vancouver, despite the fact the city says they are technically illegal. (Short-term cities/Airbnb Canada)

According to the McGill study, in the past decade, the short-term rental business has exploded in Vancouver, where it grew from insignificant to an estimated 24,000 listings, earning $22-million this year.

A city of Vancouver data analysis, which took a snapshot in April, showed 6,000 active Vancouver listings on one day.

Meanwhile, a city report says Airbnb has become Vancouver’s largest de facto hotel. In the past few years, Vancouver has scrambled to create controls.

For its part, Airbnb downplayed the report’s conclusions.

In an email, spokesperson Lindsey Scully accused Wachsmuth of “manipulating” data and “misrepresenting” Airbnb hosts, who are 80 per cent “middle class Canadian families” renting in-home units to “earn a bit of additional income to help pay the bills.”

Proposed regulations are in the works and are expected to result in new rules by spring 2018. 

That could free up between 1,000 and 4,000 units for rent, city staff and researchers estimate.

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